Space Hulk (Boardgame Review)

Name: Space Hulk (third edition)
Game Designer: John Blanche; et al.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A fun, intense 2-player tactical game pitting Space Marines against hideous "Genestealer" aliens in claustrophobic corridors portrayed by gorgeous miniatures and a clever jigsaw-like board.

Fantasy Flight Games is, as far as I'm concerned, the king of boardgame developers. Although I haven't written a formal review for Twilight Imperium, I hope my "after action report" conveys my love for that game and my conviction that it's the best board game ever. So good that I've gone back and downgraded Puerto Rico  from 5/5 down to 4/5. Anyway, I think they've made another very solid offering in Space Hulk.

Its a two-player action/adventure sort of game with a three-dimensional board. One player controls a group of heroic space marines battling in the confines of a derelict space hulk against the other player's genestealers. The genestealers are initially represented by motion sensor "blips" so the space marine player knows there are aliens lurking down that corridor but doesn't know how many. I found that this really gave the game an intense feel like watching Aliens for the first time. The space marines have big guns but if the genestealers get close they are absolutely deadly in hand-to-hand combat and the space marines will die fast. My first play I watered-down the rules a bit and dialed down the intensity (like removing the time limit on space marine turns) for playing with my 7 year-old son, but it was still great fun.

Here's a shot that gives you an idea of the components in the box -- lots of highly detailed miniatures, plenty of interlocking jigsaw-like pieces of space ship corridors and rooms, doors, dice, weapons templates, and markers. The rule books is quite straight-forward and not very long. The fatter missions book holds all the mission layouts and special rules:

Don't be intimidated by all the stuff you see. The game mechanics are pretty standard: each space marine has 4 movement points per turn. It takes, for example, one point to move one square. They can spend two points to be set on "overwatch" which allows them to shoot in the genestealer's turn, each time one of the aliens takes a move within line of sight. The aliens themselves have 6 points to represent their greater speed and agility. The space marines have a variety of weapons that each rolls a certain number of dice and require a certain number to kill (for example, their assault cannon rolls three dice and on a '5' kills its target).

There are a few characters that give bonuses, too, like the space marine sergeant, and in later missions a Librarian with potent psychic powers and the alien Broodlord. There are a wide variety of missions with varying objectives such as destroying a computer, eliminating all the aliens, or rescuing a stranded marine. I've only had a chance to play two missions so far, but really enjoyed what I did play and I think it gave me a good grasp of what the game offers.

This is a game that's easily picked-up by beginners. As mentioned, my 7-year old was able to play it without much difficulty, although I think sticking to the box's recommendation of 12+ will lead to a more enjoyable experience. I think the genestealer player needs to be a bit more ruthless than I've been with my son to crank up the intensity.

The biggest downside of this game is that is had a limited single print run in 2009 and has been out of print since then. As such, while it isn't particularly difficult to find on eBay or the Boardgamegeek Marketplace, it will run you $200+ (now the $100 I spent on my copy three years ago seems like a steal).

My only other complaint is that it seems to have the tendency to get a bit repetitive. I think that they would have been better off to incorporate a bit more role-playing and character development as in Hero Quest (man, really wish that game wasn't out of print!). But on the whole a very solid game, with the added bonus of being suitable for two players (its hard to find good two-player games).

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